Nicola Sturgeon shamed: Scottish leader faces backlash for coronavirus care home crisis

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Bosses have accused ministers of presiding over “three months of mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities”. Tony Banks, chairman and founder of the Balhousie Care Group which runs homes across Scotland, said homes “may as well just have crossed our fingers” when hospital patients were being discharged from hospitals to their care without testing for coronavirus.

Mr Banks claimed testing in care settings has been “promised” but stressed that it had “simply not been delivered”.

Mr Banks, whose company operates 26 care homes with some 940 residents, said the decisions ministers had made meant hundreds of elderly people in homes had died “before their time”.

He said: “The strategy from the Scottish Government was clear from the start: to protect the NHS.

“And it was successful. But at the expense of this, hundreds of care home residents have passed away before their time.

“And as we navigate this unholy mess there are police investigations into Covid-19-related deaths, procurator fiscal referrals, and an announcement from the Scottish Government that ‘failing’ care homes face being taken under local authority control.

“I know I’m not alone in saying that private care home operators feel betrayed.”

Mr Banks claimed Scotland had seen “three months of mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities by the Scottish Government” during the pandemic, adding that in Scotland “the rate of Covid-19-related care home deaths is one of the highest in Europe”.

Scottish Government figures revealed more than 900 elderly patients were discharged from hospital into care homes in March.

This was before a requirement for them to be tested for COVID-19 was introduced.

At the time, no risk assessments were carried out before patients were sent to care homes, with Mr Banks saying: “We may as well just have crossed our fingers.”

He added: “We asked for the patients to be tested for Covid-19 before we took them and were told no.

“In at least one of our care homes we can directly attribute the first positive cases of Covid-19 to a new admission from hospital.”

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On the issue of testing he said this “was promised but has simply not been delivered”.

Mr Banks claimed: “It was 62 days between March 1 – the date of the first positive test in Scotland – and May 1 when the Scottish Government promised sample testing in homes without the virus, and testing of all residents and staff where there were cases.”

He stressed it was now “crucial” that there was “enough testing” for staff and residents in homes, and that this should be carried out continually, not just on a one-off basis.

But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon defended the decision to transfer elderly patients to care homes.

She also insisted the Scottish Government had “sought to take the best decisions we could based on the knowledge and information we had at the time”.

Speaking on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme on Sky News yesterday, the First Minister said: “The older people that were in hospital, the so-called delayed discharges, they didn’t need to be in hospital, they had no medical need to be in hospital, we were expecting, and in some cases saw, an influx of coronavirus patients into our hospitals.

“It would have been unthinkable simply to leave older patients where they were in hospital, that would also have put them at serious and significant risk.

“What we did was put in place a system of risk assessment for older people being discharged from hospitals and gave guidance to care home providers about the isolation and infection prevention and control procedures they should have been following.”

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‘EU in world of pain’ Why Brussels needs Brexit trade deal with UK in fight for survival

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck a deal on the withdrawal agreement with the European Union towards the end of last year to include small amendments to the Irish backstop, an issue that was a thorn in the side of his predecessor, Theresa May. Mr Johnson had no such problems, using the Conservative Party’s huge 80-seat majority gained when crushing political rivals in December’s general election, to get his amended withdrawal agreement voted through the Commons by MPs and delivering on his promise to “get Brexit done” on January 31. The UK and EU quickly got trade talks underway, with Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost taking a team to Brussels to meet one led by EU counterpart Michel Barnier.

But already both sides have traded vicious insults over each other’s respective negotiating stances in talks, with huge cracks widening from bitter disagreements over a number of crucial demands being made in the post-Brexit agreement.

Following the conclusion of the latest round of virtual talks earlier this month, Mr Frost has warned the EU would have to dramatically relent in a number of areas before the next set of negotiations begin on Monday.

Mr Johnson is insisting a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU must be signed before the end of the transition period on December 31, and is refusing requests to extend this deadline to allow more time to get one agreed – a move that has left leading EU figures furious.

Prior to the start of the first negotiations with Brussels in March, he also warned the UK would walk away from the negotiating table if sufficient progress had not been made by next month.

Political experts have warned this piles huge pressure on the EU, especially with the bloc desperately struggling to manage the fallout from the coronavirus crisis.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned the eurozone could shrink by as much as seven percent this year, sparking fresh fears for the future of the under-pressure single currency.

John Macdonald, Head of Government Affairs at the Adam Smith Institute think tank, explained how the coronavirus crisis has “radically changed” the negotiating positions of the UK and EU in the space of just a few months.

He warned the EU is “about to be in a world of pain” as the economic fallout throughout the bloc is threatening to leave the continent near breaking point.

Mr Macdonald said: “The coronavirus crisis has radically changed the negotiating positions.

“The UK, like nations across the world has been ravaged by the pandemic. But the swift and extensive action of the Chancellor has staved off economic collapse.

“On the other hand, the EU is about to be in a world of pain.

“As Spain, Portugal and Italy face the prospect of sovereign debt crises, the pooling of debt, greater fiscal transfer from larger EU economies and potential tax hikes will likely become necessary, jeopardising the EU’s already compromised finances and increasing tensions between member states.”

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Patrick Sullivan, chief executive of the Westminster-based Parliament think tank, told “The UK now has the upper hand in trade talks.

“Eurozone-fledgling companies are still over-reliant on bank debt funding compared with, for example, their American counterparts.

“Eurozone banks are still not strong enough to fund a new financing for European business from their own balance sheets.

“They need global investors with risk appetite to invest, and London’s financial expertise is essential to achieving this. Given the perilous state of the eurozone, the EU now needs this trade deal more.

“A post-COVID-19 recession European continent will be crying out for a new generation of entrepreneurs to create companies which will go on to be world leaders, generating employment and wealth for Europeans.

“This requires interconnected and efficient access to their largest trading bloc, not artificial barriers to trade and investment.”

The pressure on the EU intensified after the European Central Bank warned the eurozone’s most debt-ridden countries risk bringing the single currency bloc to its knees as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is laid bare.

Debt levels are expected to rise well above those witnessed after the 2008 financial crisis, according to the ECB’s biannual financial stability review.

Eurozone Governments’ budget deficits are forecast on average to rise to eight percent of gross domestic product.

The ECB has also forecast aggregate government debt to increase from 86 percent of GDP to over 100 percent across the eurozone.

The review warned: “The pandemic represents a medium-term challenge to the sustainability of public finances.

“A more severe and prolonged economic contraction than envisaged would risk putting the public debt to GDP ratio on an unsustainable path.”

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Bye, bye Corbyn: Blairite appointment smuggles left-wing’s stranglehold of Labour

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Sir Keir Starmer established his grip as his favoured contender beat trade union backed candidates to become the new general secretary. David Evans, who worked for the party under Tony Blair, was picked by the party’s ruling body after a private vote last night. Sir Keir said Mr Evans will help the party work to “restore trust with the British people” and build a team that “can win the next election”.

The Labour leader added: “He brings a wealth of experience to this crucial role and a clear understanding of the scale of the task ahead of us.”

Six candidates made it on to the shortlist to replace Jennie Formby, who was a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn and quit by “mutual agreement” when Sir Keir took over.

But Mr Evans’ main rival was Byron Taylor, Labour’s former trade union liaison officer.

Some trade unions wanted a candidate from the left of the party but the more moderate GMB union helped to swing the vote in favour of the centrist candidate.

Mr Evans was Labour’s assistant general secretary between 1999-2001 and organised the election campaign that secured Mr Blair a second term.

He called for a “radical overhaul” of the party to “empower modernising forces” and marginalise the left in an internal report in 1999.

One of the first tasks Mr Evans will face is having to deal with the party’s response to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission investigation into Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism under Mr Corbyn.

Mr Evans, who founded a political research company, said: “It is an honour and a privilege to be appointed General Secretary of the Labour Party.

“We face a defining period in the history of our great party, with a global pandemic, an imminent recession and a mountain to climb to win the next election. Through the strength of our movement, I know we can rise to this challenge.

“I look forward to working with our party, trade unions and members to build a team that can win us the next general election and give us the opportunity to once again serve the British people in government.”

Andrew Fisher, who used to work for Mr Corbyn, Karin Christiansen, a former general secretary of the Co-operative Party, former MEP Neena Gill and Amanda Martin, president of the National Education Union, also ran.

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Brazil's Bolsonaro says he expects top court to end probe into his conduct over police

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro expects the Supreme Court to find no wrongdoing and end an investigation into potential political interference in the federal police, according to a statement from the presidential palace on Monday.

An allegation by former Justice Minister Sergio Moro, a popular anti-graft crusader, that Bolsonaro aimed to interfere in police investigations has become a political scandal adding to the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Last week, the federal Supreme Court released a video recording of an April 22 ministerial meeting in which Bolsonaro said he wanted to change security officials, their bosses or even ministers to stop his family and friends from getting “screwed.”

Bolsonaro said in the statement on Monday that he expects the “matter to be treated with responsibility and serenity.”

Writing on Facebook after the release of the video, Bolsonaro said there was “no indication of interference in the federal police.” In a radio interview with Jovem Pan, he said he had been talking about his own personal security and not senior members of the federal police.

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New Zealand opposition leader ousted as PM Ardern's popularity soars

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The leader of New Zealand’s main opposition party was ousted on Friday after opinion polls showed he was no match for the soaring popularity of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as the country heads toward a general election.

Simon Bridges was replaced by Todd Muller in an emergency caucus meeting of his centre-right National Party following a week of disastrous poll results.

Just 5% of New Zealanders supported Bridges, 43, as the country’s leader in a poll published on Thursday, while support for the Nationals fell to the lowest in decades. The same poll revealed Ardern, 39, enjoyed the support of 63% of the electorate.

Ardern’s popularity has shot higher in recent weeks with around 84% of New Zealanders approving of her government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Another poll showed Ardern had become New Zealand’s most popular prime minister in a century and her centre-left Labour Party led coalition would be handed a huge victory at the Sept. 19 election.

Muller, 51, a largely unknown figure at the national level, had not been publicly perceived as a potential leader. Speaking to the media after the party ballot, he emphasised his strong ties to the rural farming community, the backbone of New Zealand’s economy. Muller held roles at both dairy giant Fonterra and kiwifruit growers cooperative Zespri.

“I come from New Zealand communities that define this country,” Muller said.

“The question sitting in front of all New Zealanders in the next 100 days is who actually has the best plan and the team to deliver it.”

Muller said Ardern was “impressive” in her handling of the coronavirus crisis and his focus would be on the country’s economic recovery, not criticising the current leader.

Nikki Kaye, 40, was elected as the Nationals’ deputy leader, replacing Paula Bennett. Kaye has twice defeated Jacinda Ardern in previous electorate battles.

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Lesotho PM Thomas Thabane resigns, soothing political crisis

MASERU (Reuters) – Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane resigned on Tuesday, removing the main hurdle to resolving a political crisis that engulfed the small southern African mountain kingdom late last year.

Thabane’s departure marks the end of one of Lesotho’s longest political careers, one marked by exile, feuding, intrigue, tensions with the military and a political crisis that worsened when police named him as a suspect in a murder case in February.

His own All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, opposition figures and South African mediators, had been heaping pressure on the prime minister to resign over a case in which he and his current wife are suspected of conspiring to murder his former wife nearly three years ago.

They have both denied any involvement.

“The time to retire from the great theatre of action, take leave from public life and office has finally arrived,” the eighty-year-old told citizens in a speech on Lesotho TV.

“I plead with the entire nation and leadership to give my successor utmost support, and on my part I wish to assure him of my support at all material times,” he added.

Finance minister Moeketsi Majoro has been named by parliament as Thabane’s interim replacement.

(This story corrects to make clear Thabane was named as suspect in February, not late last year, paragraph 2)

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Japan to put off bid to raise prosecutors' retirement age after backlash

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s government will postpone a bid to raise the retirement age of public prosecutors, media said on Monday, given an intense public backlash fuelled by fears for judicial independence.

Opposition to a bill raising the retirement has been among the top-trending topics on social media this month, with singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and other celebrities adding their voices.

NHK public broadcaster said the decision to put off the bid to raise the retirement age was made in a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

“I have agreed with the prime minister that it’s difficult to move forward the discussion without public understanding,” Nikai told reporters after the meeting with Abe.

Under the bill, prosecutors would retire at 65 instead of 63, and the cabinet would be able to defer the retirement of senior prosecutors for a further three years.

But critics say the law would jeopardise the independence of the judiciary by allowing government-friendly prosecutors to be kept on.

“Forcing this bill through would unleash public fury,” an unidentified lawmaker was quoted as saying in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

Abe had hoped to pass the bill during this session of parliament, which runs until June 17. Its withdrawal would mark a rare instance in Japan of public opinion swaying political deliberations.

The controversy has been a new blow to Abe, whose support has dropped after what many saw as his administration’s slow response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

An opinion poll in the Asahi newspaper on Monday showed 64% of respondents opposed the bill and 15% in favour. The same poll had Abe’s approval rating at 33%, versus 41% a month ago.

Earlier, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga sidestepped questions on the issue at a news conference saying he was aware there were “various opinions” about the bill.

In a rare move, a group of former prosecutors has also protested to the justice ministry, saying “prosecutors wouldn’t be able to keep the trust of the people” if they could not maintain their independence.

Abe also faced criticism this year when the chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutor’s Office, seen as close to the premier, was allowed to stay on after turning 63.

Debate on the bill has stalled in parliament after opposition parties submitted a no-confidence resolution on Friday against the minister overseeing the legal revision.

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Zimbabwe opposition says activists missing, police deny holding them

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s main opposition party said on Thursday three of its activists were missing a day after taking part in a protest over food shortages and police denied holding them after initially telling local media they had been arrested.

The southern African nation has a history of enforced disappearances of government opponents and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said it feared its members, including a member of parliament, had been abducted by state security agents.

Police spokesman Paul Nyathi was quoted by state-owned and private press as saying the three had been arrested for taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration on Wednesday. Nyathi could not be reached for comment.

But in a statement later on Thursday, police denied holding the MDC members in their custody and said law enforcement agents wanted to interview the activists in connection with the protest that drew a few dozen people.

That has raised fears about the whereabouts and safety of the three in a country where activists often disappear and later turn up at police stations claiming to have been tortured.

“We demand their unconditional and immediate release,” the MDC said in a statement.

The embassies of Britain, Canada and the United States and the European Union mission in Harare expressed concern via social media over the missing activists and said police should swiftly establish their whereabouts and wellbeing.

The Harare-based legal group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said it had approached the High Court on behalf of the families of the MDC activists to compel police to determine their whereabouts.

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Donald Trump’s plans to punish China over coronavirus pandemic revealed

The move will also see new tariff introduced to penalise the country over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, officials close to US planning revealed. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he would bring manufacturing back from China.

“We’ve been working on (reducing the reliance of our supply chains in China) over the last few years but we are now turbo-charging that initiative,” Keith Krach, undersecretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment at the State Department told Reuters.

“I think it is essential to understand where the critical areas are and where critical bottlenecks exist.”

He added that the move was key to US security and one the administration could reveal new plans for soon.

The US Commerce Department, State and other agencies are exploring alternatives to withdraw sourcing and manufacturing from China.

Potential measures to start the change include tax incentives and re-shoring subsidies.

“There is a whole of government push on this,” said one.

Trump’s policy on China has been shaped by behind-the-scenes strives between pro-trade officials and China adversaries; now the latter say their time has come.

“This moment is a perfect storm; the pandemic has crystallised all the worries that people have had about doing business with China,” said another senior US official.

READ MORE: Germans ordered to stay at home as borders remain shut due to COVID-19

“All the money that people think they made by making deals with China before, now they’ve been eclipsed many fold by the economic damage” from the coronavirus, the official said.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that he could put new levies in addition to the up to 25 percent tax on $370 billion in Chinese products currently in place.

US businesses, which pay the tariffs, are already complaining about the existing tariffs, especially as sales drop during the pandemic crisis.

However, Trump will not hesitate to introduce new ones, officials say.

Other ways to penalise China may include sanctions on officials or firms.

A better relation with Taiwan, the self-governing island China considers a province, are also being considered.

Commerce on Monday initiated a national security investigation that could lead to new US tariffs on imports of key elements of power transformers.

Commerce claimed it needed guaranteed domestic access to such imports to be able to act to power disruptions.

The US is striving to create an alliance of “trusted partners” dubbed the “Economic Prosperity Network,” one official said.

It would involve businesses and civil society associations working under the same set of standards on everything from digital business, energy and infrastructure to research, trade, education and commerce, he said.

“The U.S. government is working with Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam to “move the global economy forward,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said April 29.

These discussions include “how we restructure … supply chains to prevent something like this from ever happening again,” Mr Pompeo said.

China overtook the United States as the world’s top manufacturing country in 2010, and was in charge of 28 percent of global production in 2018, according to United Nations figures.

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Netanyahu fate at stake as coalition deal challenged in top court

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s top court on Monday heard challenges to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to secure a governing coalition, with opposition figures arguing a deal on a new unity administration would unlawfully shield him in a corruption trial.

The Supreme Court’s 11-justice panel convened for a second day after hearing separate petitions on Sunday against Netanyahu’s authority to form a government given his indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Rulings are expected by Thursday. Should the court find against Netanyahu on either front, it would likely trigger a snap election – the fourth since April 2019 – as the country grapples with the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.

Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz signed an agreement last month to form a unity government under which they would take turns leading Israel after their three, inconclusive ballot runs. They cited the coronavirus crisis in forming the pact.

In power for more than a decade and currently head of a caretaker government, right-wing Netanyahu would serve as prime minister of a new administration for 18 months before handing the reins to centrist Gantz, according to the unity deal.

Netanyahu, 70, would then assume the role of “substitute prime minister”, which some analysts say would exempt him from a law that requires cabinet-level ministers to resign from public office if they are indicted on criminal charges.

Netanyahu’s trial is due to open on May 24. He has denied any wrongdoing and accused political rivals of a “witch-hunt”.

The coalition deal also grants Netanyahu influence over important judicial appointments, which critics argue gives the premier undue sway over the outcome of his own proceedings.

The pact has support from a majority in parliament. But several groups, including opposition parties and democracy watchdogs, petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify the deal, arguing in part that it shields Netanyahu from legal penalties.

Some analysts have said the court, though cast by Netanyahu loyalists as liberal and interventionist, was unlikely to strike down the deal or bar Netanyahu from forming a government.

Responding to the petitions, Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said that while certain aspects of the deal “raise major difficulties”, there were no grounds to disqualify it.

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